Art Collection · Collage Art · Look Here · Matt Kish

Heads Up: Matt Kish is having an art sale, and then a bonfire!

After having cleared his etsy shop of old, unsold work a while ago, Matt Kish, author of Moby-Dick in Pictures: One Drawing for Every Page (Tin House Books, 2011) and a forthcoming illustrated edition of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness (also with one drawing for every page), I say, Matt Kish has come to a decision:

I’ve been feeling really bogged down. It’s time, actually far past time, to move forward. So I’ve added all remaining art — Moby-Dick illustrations, first series of Heart of Darkness illustrations, miscellaneous monsters and other stuff — back to my Etsy shop one last time.

The art will remain available and for sale until the end of Sunday November 11, this year. After that, I will take what is left, give a few pieces to close personal friends and destroy the rest. I’ve done that in the past and that kind of creative destruction has always fuelled new avenues of creativity for me.

So that’s it. About two more weeks to get whatever pieces you may have had your eye on. Email me if you have any questions.

While I actually think Kish would be foolish to destroy his published artwork, especially if he intends to stick with illustration for the long haul, I have a feeling that, one way or the other, most of the unsold work will eventually find a home.

At the very least, I know I’ve been doing my part to save Kish’s originals from the fire. Let me explain…

As regular readers of RCN might remember, I bought a Moby-Dick collage from Matt Kish back in June of this year. At the time, because I admire Moby-Dick in Pictures as a whole, and the prices of the individual works of art were very reasonable, I considered buying more. Considered. But didn’t. For various reasons. And promptly moved on to other concerns. Until, that is, I read about Kish’s decision on his blog, at which point I scrambled back to the artist’s etsy shop and browsed through the remaining pieces, hoping that at least one or two of the originals that I had considered buying the first time around would still be available for purchase. Two were. So I bought them both.

And now I’m here for show and tell.

The first piece that I decided, this time around, to add to my wife’s and my collection of original art is Kish’s illustration in collage and ink, five inches wide by eight inches tall, for page 301 of the Signet Classic edition of Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick. Specifically, Kish’s image was inspired by the following passage: “…there, that blood-dripping head hung to the Pequod’s waist like the giant Holofernes’s from the girdle of Judith.” Melville’s description is obviously a play on the traditional metaphor of the ship as woman, so it’s no surprise that a woman — a curvaceous temptress clipped from a reproduction of Ingres’ The Turkish Bath (1862) — makes an appearance in Kish’s illustration, hovering at the top of the page like the Pequod bobbing on the ocean. Through the spatters of red and blue paint — blood and water — that connect the Pequod/Judith with the flabby, lifeless head of the whale/Holofernes, one notices the noun phrase “BURNING DAYLIGHT” imprinted on the “found paper” substrate. The phrase is there because the paper is the half title page — another (metaphorical) severed head — from an early edition of Jack London’s novel of the Yukon gold rush, Burning Daylight, but the words themselves also have symbolic significance (though I’m not going to work it out for you). Across the form of the head, the artist has scrawled in an elaborate script the letters “sphy,” followed by a period, which seems enigmatic until you realize that it is simply an abbreviation of the title of the chapter — “The Sphynx” (notice that the “nx” is stacked vertically after the period: cheeky!) — which, in turn, is a reference to how Captain Ahab views the whale’s severed head. In fact, on the very next page, Ahab himself gives us his thoughts on the matter in an amazing soliloquy:

It was a black and hooded head; and hanging there in the midst of so intense a calm, it seemed the Sphynx’s in the desert. “Speak, thou vast and venerable head,” muttered Ahab, “which, though ungarnished with a beard, yet here and there lookest hoary with mosses; speak, mighty head, and tell us the secret thing that is in thee. Of all divers, thou hast dived the deepest. That head upon which the upper sun now gleams, has moved amid this world’s foundations. Where unrecorded names and navies rust, and untold hopes and anchors rot; where in her murderous hold this frigate earth is ballasted with bones of millions of the drowned; there, in that awful water-land, there was thy most familiar home. Thou hast been where bell or diver never went; hast slept by many a sailor’s side, where sleepless mothers would give their lives to lay them down. Thou saw’st the locked lovers when leaping from their flaming ship; heart to heart they sank beneath the exulting wave; true to each other, when heaven seemed false to them. Thou saw’st the murdered mate when tossed by pirates from the midnight deck; for hours he fell into the deeper midnight of the insatiate maw; and his murderers still sailed on unharmed – while swift lightnings shivered the neighboring ship that would have borne a righteous husband to outstretched, longing arms. O head! thou hast seen enough to split the planets and make an infidel of Abraham, and not one syllable is thine!” [p. 302]

Anyway, I think that’s enough from me about the image. Take a look for yourself and see what you think:

The second piece that I selected is Kish’s illustration, eight inches wide by eleven inches high, for page 384 of Melville’s famous novel. As with the first piece, Kish was inspired by a specific passage — in this case, part of a speech delivered in a court of law by a famous defence counsellor, “the witty Erskine,” who attempts to use a dispute between a husband and the wife that he abandoned and later attempted, unsuccessfully, to reclaim (even though she had by then remarried), as precedent in support of his (Mr. Erskine’s) contention that property that was lost at sea in unusual circumstances by one whaling ship and then claimed as salvage by another ought not to be returned to the original owners but instead ought to be recognized as the legal property of the salvagers. The passage, which Melville clearly wrote with his tongue planted firmly in his cheek, reads as follows: “…though the gentleman had originally harpooned the lady, and had once had her fast, and only by reason of the great stress of her plunging viciousness, had at last abandoned her; yet abandon her he did, so that she became a loose-fish….” In Kish’s visual interpretation of the lawyer’s colourful analogy, the lady takes on a form that is part human being and part one-eyed, one-winged mythological beast, part woman and part white whale, part flame-haired seductress and part one-breasted Amazonian warrior:

In the uterus of the woman/whale/warrior — or is she a (fallen) angel? — visible right through the surface of her white dress/skin/armour, an ovum awaits the arrival of the several sperm that, presumably, will compete to fertilize it. What is the meaning of this? I could hazard a guess… but instead, I think I’ll just let you puzzle it out for yourself…

BONUS IMAGES (added 11 April 2013):

Just realized that I forgot to add two other Moby-Dick pictures by Matt Kish that my wife and I have in our art collection:


See also here and here on Matt’s blog.

Although I had emailed Matt near the end of his art sale to inquire about the two paintings displayed above — they are paintings that I definitely thought should be preserved for posterity — I want to emphasize, without revealing too much, that the way that the artwork eventually ended up in our collection was totally unexpected and really rather heartwarming…

Have I mentioned that Matt Kish is a mensch? In another online context, I know I have, but it definitely bears repeating: Matt Kish is a mensch!

AND ANOTHER (added a bit later):

2 thoughts on “Heads Up: Matt Kish is having an art sale, and then a bonfire!

  1. Call me a Philistine if you want to, but I just checked out Kish’s art on his webpage, and if he offered to GIVE me a piece, I’d politely decline. Burn it.


  2. It’s okay if you don’t like Matt Kish’s work, Alan. But telling him to “burn it” does not seem “polite” to me. Better to just ignore it, and if it is really as unworthy as you think it is, it will disappear of its own accord in the fullness of time.

    Anyway, Alan, I wonder if you have had a chance to read Matt Kish’s art book, Moby-Dick in Pictures. While Kish’s individual pieces can sometimes seem weak/underdeveloped when taken out of context, i.e., separated both from one another and from the quotations from Melville’s novel, the accumulative impact in print, where one can more easily trace the symbolic and aesthetic connections among the various images as well as appreciate the various ways that the images relate to the texts that they are intended to illustrate, is very strong. Because even though Kish is not a trained artist, he is by no means naive. Rather, as I tried to convey in the above post, his work in Moby-Dick in Pictures is inventive, thoughtful, and thought-provoking, in a way that a lot of the realistic, technically proficient contemporary illustration and fine art that I see praised on other blogs — lines & colors, for instance — is not.

    Truth be told, I’m not particularly enamoured of the work Kish is doing for his forthcoming book inspired by Heart of Darkness — the style just doesn’t appeal to me; I much prefer the messy, layered, sketchbook aesthetic of the earlier work — but I respect any artist who is productive and does exactly what he wants to do, regardless of the naysayers.

    Plus, Kish is a nice guy. I wish him well.


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